Equal access to HIV testing and resources which prevent the spread of the virus are the best measures taken to protect against HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. HIV attacks the immune system and white blood cells that fight off illness, causing AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
“Living with HIV and medication means a full and happy life,” Ashley Ceniceros, MD, MPH, Adult Medicine, said. “But one can only get treated if they know they have the virus. It flies under the radar, which is how it has been such a successful virus.”
Many wear a red ribbon to show their support of those currently living with HIV and AIDS, but knowing what resources are available to preventing the spread of HIV can provide equal protection to yourself and your community.
HIV infection can result from sexual activity, blood transfusion or from using a needle used by an infected person. You cannot become infected through casual contact such as handholding or hugging. It’s important to use a condom with your partner to prevent the spread of infection and to schedule a screening to test for HIV.
“People within the early stages of HIV do not usually have symptoms and can be asymptomatic with HIV for a long time,” Dr. Ceniceros said. “That’s why it’s so important to get screened – to ensure HIV is not being unknowingly spread to others.” HIV screenings are a critical way to monitor for the illness. Rapid tests are also available using saliva, a convenient advancement in testing.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, is over 96% effective in preventing transmission of HIV. “PrEP is most effective for men who have sex with men, but it can also reduce the possibility of HIV acquisition by 70 to 80% in heterosexual males and females and those who inject drugs,” Dr. Ceniceros said.
After a diagnosis, it’s important to follow the individual care plan that your doctor creates for you.
“Studies have shown that the sooner medication starts, regardless of the level of immunity or virus, the better someone does in terms of consequences from HIV,” Dr. Ceniceros said. “The job of the medication is to kill the virus before it decreases the immune system. The medication will keep the virus at a very low level, or "undetectable", but will not cure the virus so it is important that a patient continues to take medication once diagnosed.”
No matter your diagnosis, Carle Health provides care to every patient with compassion. “Carle physicians understand that a diagnosis does not define a person,” Dr. Ceniceros said. “Acting compassionately with a patient and meeting them where they are is a huge part of treating HIV. Ensuring that physicians use appropriate language, pronouns and names is important.”
Like all health information, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects any patients’ HIV and AIDS diagnosis. Care providers only discuss this information with the patient and whoever the patient gives permission to ensure their privacy is respected and protected.
An HIV positive diagnosis can be a weight on a person’s emotional wellbeing. It’s important to connect with professionals to care for your mental health as well as using online and community resources to connect with others sharing the experience of being HIV or AIDS positive.
“Additionally, openly discussing illnesses and normalizing them is extremely important,” Dr. Ceniceros said. “No one is alone.”
For more information on HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, visit Carle.org.